It has been a while for me to be an amateur consultant of scholarship. I am puzzled why. Some people asked me tips on getting scholarship for studying overseas, especially Australia. While I am always happy to share whatever I know, deep inside, I still believe that getting a scholarship is a mystery. There is no guarantee that one will get a scholarship no matter how good she/he is. However, there are steps that one can follow; there are requirements that need to be met.
I was one of the Australian Development Scholarship (ADS) grantees in 2004 for a master degree in the University of New South Wales (UNSW). When I applied for the scholarship I was not a special candidate. I had not published anything and I was also a brand-new lecturer at the Department of Geodetic Engneering, Gadjah Mada University. No much experiences to sell. The only thing that I was happy enough with was my TOEFL score which was 567. I remember it was not even an institutional TOEFL, but a TOEFL-like score. Fortunately, TOEFL-like certificate was acceptable at that time. Apart from that, I filled the form properly and considered every single question seriously. Since I knew that my hand-writing is terrible, I printed my answers for each question on separated papers, cut them and then stick them to the forms. This is what people may call “creativity”, which Javanese refer to as ‘grésék’.
I was lucky enough to be granted an ADS, one of the happiest moments in life. On 14 January 2004, I landed in Sydney for the very first time. I was thrilled to see the ‘Kangaroo Island’ that morning and could not wait to start my journey. Most importantly, it was the beginning of my international network development. I am grateful for the warm welcome and support provided by Indonesian senior students. They picked us up and assisted us with almost everything. They even prepared for us accommodation and, later on, helped us opening bank account. I will never forget their kindness. This was a good experience how then I developed my positive perception concerning life as international students in Australia. Being Indonesians is always good, wherever you are.
I did a master by research so that I did not have many classes to attend. I had only three classes and they were finished in the first session. I had a lot of time in the last 1.5 half years to do my research. Apart from my main research concerning maritime boundary delimitation between Indonesia and East Timor, I had enough time to develop my skill in writing. In 2004 I started blogging. I found writing is challenging and also self-rewarding every time I finished one article, regardless of its length and quality. Then I expand this writing hobby into academic area. I began writing academic papers for small forums, conferences or even for my own collection. In 2005 I wrote for the Jakarta Post for the very first time. It was about Ambalat, a phenomenal case between Indonesia and Malaysia concerning energy block dispute in the Sulawesi Sea.
Since then, I have been writing and writing. During my master study, I presented papers in three international conferences in Jakarta, Adelaide and Sydney. I was also given opportunities to assist my supervisor in giving lectures concerning Indonesian maritime issues. I was so excited and did not want to miss the opportunities. Meanwhile, I kept writing for the Jakarta Post and other newspapers in Indonesia such as Kompas, Sinar Harapan, Bali Post, Suara Pembaruan, etc. I tried to be consistent writing in a big topic of ocean affairs and the law of the sea, especially its geospatial/technical aspects.
Apart from academic affairs, I did have fun in Sydney during my study. I enjoyed being involved in social activities such as BBQ with Indonesian and International students. We also organized a regular discussion among Indonesian students concerning hot issues in Indonesia. In addition, working part time was also my passion. I worked as a kitchen hand in a Thai restaurant in Randwick, just like stories I read about Indonesian students studying overseas. I was so excited to be part of the stories. After several months, I changed my ‘career’ to be a pastry cook making tartlets, cakes, pies, you name it. It was so much fun working while studying. Working to me was a refreshing moment while I was stuck with my thesis. In short, I managed to combine studies, organization, and working at the same time. Those all enriched me and completed my experience of studying in Australia.
By the end of my master degree, I realized that I had published around 30 works including conferences, newspaper article, magazines, journals, book chapter, lectures, etc. Honestly, I was surprised with the number. Then I agreed that when you do something with passion, the result can be better than you expected. My résumé was beautiful with a complete combination of academic qualification, list of publications, organizational activities and working experience. As I mentioned earlier, I was not a special person. I am just someone with passion to do a lot of things at the same time.
Having returned to Indonesia, I tried to keep my spirit by maintaining contact with my supervisors in Australia. I did not stop researching, writing and publishing and sometimes I wrote papers with them. I started writing my first book in June 2006 concerning International Maritime Boundaries, which is extracted from my thesis. I also presented papers in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok in 2006, while at the same time I kept writing for newspapers. In my opinion, an academic should write both for scientific and popular media. One should not be happy publishing only in journals or scientific forums because they have limited audience. A broader spectrum of readers should be reached and newspaper is one of the answers. However, writing something serious and heavy using popular language is not easy. I found it is challenging to write about geodetic datum and coordinate accuracy in Kompas and the Jakarta Post, for instances. However, we never know until we try and I did it. One tip to remember: always associate your difficult/technical topics with popular issues. Since then, I’ve tried to publish a same topic in at least two different media: one scientific, and one popular. With this strategy, I manage to boost the quantity of my publications and reach broader band of audiences.
A long list of publication is a strong weapon for a scholarship hunter. In 2007 I was granted a United Nations-Nippon Foundation Fellowship to conduct a research in Australia and the United States of America. It was for the first time I officially worked with the University of Wollongong, being a research fellow. I also spent three months in the United Nations Office in New York, US. It was a great experience that I will never forget. Apart from having good experience of conducting research supervised by world-class researchers and being in a superb research environment with an abundance of resources, making good friends with many of the brightest young people from around the globe is really something. Not only did we learn from each other concerning ocean affairs and the law of the sea, but we also better understand and appreciate differences between us.
During the UN-Nippon fellowship, I applied for Australian Leadership Awards (ALA). The strong points of my application, I think, are the acceptance letter from University of Wollongong, a considerably long list of publication, and three strong recommendation letters. I managed to secure recommendations from my two former supervisors (this is another reason to maintain good relationship with them) and my department head in Gadjah Mada University. I was so impressed with their recommendations. I jokingly said to Asti, my wife, “it seems to me that they wrote recommendations for someone else, someone better.”
In September 2007, when I was in a short holiday in Jakarta from my UN-Nippon fellowship in Australia, I was invited for an interview by ALA. I could not imagine if the invitation came to me when I was in Australia or America, the story might have been different. Here, I believe in the power of the ‘Invisible Hand’. I believe also in luck, even though I agree with Thomas Jefferson that “the harder I work the more luck I seem to have.”
Three interviewers were there in front of me. The essence of the interview, in my opinion, was candidates’ view concerning the definition of leadership and how candidates are involved in leadership in their past, present and future life. To me leadership is an action. To lead is to control and manage ourselves. Therefore, leadership is about self management. I believe that in every each of us, there lay capacity and ability. Leadership is about managing and empowering those for good purpose, not only for you, yourself but also for people in a greater scope.
Concerning my current leadership role, I highlighted my teaching activities and the works that I have published. Leadership, to me is also about spreading your ideas to as many people as possible so they will gain knowledge and finally do something good that you wanted them to do. That is what teaching and publishing are all about. Meanwhile, for my leadership role in the future, I briefly explained my plan concerning research and possibility to give positive influence to government’s policy. My plan to establish a research center and keep publishing regularly was the one I emphasized during the interview.
I was also asked about the most self-rewarding achievement of mine. I mentioned my new-released book: International Maritime Boundaries (in Bahasa Indonesia) and took out a copy from my bag. I then explained the contents of the book and how it relates to my current PhD proposal. I was then asked how ready I am with my PhD topic. The interviewer asked me to demonstrate that I have adequate background in the area as well as having enough preparation to accomplish the research. For the first part, I told them about my master degree in UNSW with a similar research topic. In addition, I informed them my publications concerning the topic and my current fellowship with the United Nations. With regard to preparation, I told them that I have approached relevant institutions in Indonesia that I might need to contact during my research. I also asserted that I had been reading publications in the field from either journals or other publication media.
The next question was how important the topic is for Indonesia. Maritime boundary issues are, undoubtedly, important for Indonesia, being the largest archipelagic state in the world. I also explained that Indonesia has ten neighbors (India, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Australia and Timor Leste) with whom maritime boundaries need to be settled. Not only that, border management will be an issue that requires serious attention in the future.
Another important question was that how I could use my knowledge and expertise to give positive influence to government’s policy. I started answering the question by telling them my scenario. First of all I told them that I have established a new subject concerning boundary delimitation and demarcation in my university in Yogyakarta. This would be a formal channel through which I can disseminate my ideas and pass it to young generation, which in turn, when their time have come, will equip them with knowledge so they can make a difference to government policy. This is a long-term objective. In addition, I will strengthen research and investigation in the relevant field by establishing or being involved in a research center. The most important part is that I will publish more from the research. Furthermore, I told them the possibility for me to be involved in developing government’s policy in the future.
Now, here I am. I am back in Australia, living in a peaceful small city of Wollongong with ALA scholarship. Surprisingly, since 2008, the top four ALA awardees are granted another award: Alison Sudradjat Awards (ASA). The award is to respect Mrs. Alison Sudradjat, an AusAID hero, who tragically died in an airplane crash in Yogyakarta in early 2007. The award provides a top-up of AUD 25,000 to each grantee to expand his/her research and opportunities. I was lucky enough to be one of the ASA grantees and met in person H.E. Stephen Smith, MP, the former Australian Foreign Minister in Canberra in 2009.
I have been doing similar things to what I did during my master studies. While keeping the passion to write and publish, I also work part time. Along with organizing discussion, I enjoyed BBQ and voluntary activities. With my amateur qualification, I have been always happy to share my experience concerning scholarship. For those who are currently fighting for scholarship, let me share Deepak Chopra’s wise words “believe in you, take an action, and tell your stories.” Good luck!